I recently gave a talk to young mothers entitled, “Is there anything to eat in this house?” We all want to open our refrigerators and find delicious healthy food, but it won’t get there by itself. I spoke generally, trying to break down the different cooking tasks — those things that experienced homemakers hardly think about. Through awareness of what exactly makes cooking time-consuming and difficult, struggling cooks can develop useful strategies for kitchen management.
Most people figure out how to manage in the kitchen eventually. But I also meet some who are floundering under meal preparations, and rely on prepared foods or take-out more than they would like. Even many experienced homemakers never learned how to store food properly, operate appliances efficiently, or use up leftovers. It’s just one more example of how the art of homemaking has been lost.
During the talk I touched on a few ways to save time in each of five categories (with a lot of overlap).
- Planning. Making menus (often the most difficult part), preparing shopping lists, locating recipes, and checking that ingredients and utensils are available. More time planning means less time working. Menus take into consideration what we already have on hand, our personal preferences and food philosophy, time of year, quantities (use a cookbook for estimates), budget, needs and abilities of children, time, and storage space. Don’t forget to plan what you will do with leftovers.
- Physical preparations. Peeling, washing, chopping, checking for bugs (because they’re not kosher), soaking beans, marinating, defrosting. With planning we can make these steps painless. Chicken can be prepared in advance and frozen or refrigerated, ready to pop into the oven or pan. Onions can be peeled, sliced, and frozen. Wash fruits and vegetables in quantity so they are ready to go. Most foods and food combinations can be cooked in quantities and frozen in small portions. When I make tuna casserole, I double (or triple) everything but the noodles, and store the extra for a quick meal next time. It takes less space than an entire casserole, but that also works.
- Cooking. Combining ingredients, boiling, mixing, frying, stirring, checking doneness, making individual portions (like hamburgers), cooling (when necessary for the next step), heating. Avoid time-consuming chores like forming meatballs; make meatloaf unless you have older children available. Use a crock-pot or microwave instead of the stove-top–the food won’t scorch. Any sauce that needs stirring works well in the microwave, and it won’t matter if you get interrupted. Plan the tasks in a logical order–put up water to boil before making salads.
- Distractions and mistakes. This includes miscalculations (of quantities, time, utensils, and ingredients), interruptions, spills, and burns (of both people and food). An ER pediatrician said that “100% of accidents are preventable.” Causes include rushing, using too small utensils, doing kid-unfriendly tasks when they are “helping,” transporting open ingredients across the floor, and using cluttered workspaces.
- Clean-up. We won’t enjoy our food if the kitchen is a mess. Wear an apron and spread old newspaper on your workspace before starting. Fill a big bowl or sink with soapy water for dirty utensils. Have a sprayer and rag handy for spills and to wipe the stove, appliances and counters when you are done.
Shabbat shalom and happy cooking.
I go into more detail about efficient cooking at CookingManager.Com.
Related: Is Homemade Food Worth the Effort?